Teaching Students to be Intolerant

By FRANK CARINI

Tea Party royals and their political minions persist in their obstinate assault on a late British naturalist. Gun-toting, bible-thumping folks curse Darwin as a socialist and communist, and demand that evolution be taught as a controversy.

They dismiss climate change as a hoax, and call it too a controversial issue.

In fact, this relentless attack on science by the right wing of the Republican Party has grown so politicized that skepticism of scientific consensus has leached into public school classrooms.

This faith-based, anti-science agenda is ruining the country’s educational system — and Tea Party-backed elected officials are making sure it does. Indoctrinate instead of educate.

The Tennessee Legislature recently passed a measure that would protect teachers who allow students to criticize evolution and other scientific theories, such as climate change. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will likely sign the bill into law.

Proponents say the bill encourages critical thinking by protecting teachers from discipline if they help students critique “scientific weaknesses.” They ignore the fact that evolution is an established science because it doesn’t fit their “Flintstones” version of the past.

Field trips for Tennessee public school students soon will include pilgrimages to the Creation Museum in neighboring Kentucky. The 70,000-square-foot museum “brings the pages of the Bible to life, casting its characters and animals in dynamic form and placing them in familiar settings. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers.”

Students will laugh when they see Fred punch the dinosaur time clock after a hard day at the quarry, and they’ll watch Barney cut the grass with a dinosaur mower.

To cope with evolution being taught in the classroom, these ideologues relentlessly attempt to blur the line that separates church and state — but only when it suits their agenda.

They support the teaching of intelligent design in public school classrooms. They argue that both sides of the evolution “debate” should be taught. If that’s the case, shouldn’t we be teaching evolution in Sunday school classrooms?

The Tea Party and its manipulated cronies in office also are a little hazy on climate change. Some admit climate change is a problem, but they are quick to note that there is a “debate” whether it’s manmade or naturally caused.

Most, however, dismiss it out of hand. Tennessee and Oklahoma have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a seat in public school classrooms. Texas and Louisiana have introduced standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah have passed resolutions denying climate change even exists.

Last year, a school board in Los Alamitos, Calif., passed a measure – that was later rescinded — identifying climate science as a controversial topic that required special instructional oversight.

A presidential hopeful calls climate change a “hoax,” and dismisses the threat with a rudimentary understanding of science, or, worse, ignores the danger to win over the Tea Party and make friends with the Koch brothers. “The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is,” Rick Santorum said at the Gulf Coast Energy Summit held last month in Mississippi.

Denying humans have a hand in impacting the climate — despite decades of nonstop spewing of carbon dioxide from tailpipes and smokestacks — keeps Big Oil rich, America addicted to fossil fuels and Super PACs funded. It’s an excuse to do nothing and blame Mother Nature for the melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and record temperatures. Teach our students that the thickening layer of smog in the air is caused by bovine flatulence.

Teach them we aren’t responsible for anything that happens to the environment, and that the earth was given to us by God to make money.

Science isn’t the only subject under attack. Public school officials in Tucson have suspended Mexican-American studies because they clam it teaches students to resent Anglos. The Arizona official who led the effort to suspend this course of study is considering taking his fight to the state university system, because a graduate of this system who went on to teach Mexican-American studies in the Tucson public schools once characterized slave-owning Benjamin Franklin as a racist.

The state’s superintendent of public instruction, John Huppenthal, a featured speaker at Tea Party rallies, said Tucson’s Mexican-American studies curriculum violated state law.

He should know. As a state senator, Huppenthal helped pass a bill that banned public school courses that advocate the overthrow of the United States or promote racial resentment. The law specifically targeted Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program.

Once he was elected superintendent of public instruction in 2010, Huppenthal, who as a senator co-sponsored Arizona’s Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act that many believe encourages racial profiling, quickly fought for justice in Tucson.

Nothing controversial about that.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.